On Jan. 31, 2020, I found myself in the back area behind the courtroom with my wrists in metal handcuffs, a chain around my waist, my hands chained to my waist and my legs shackled. After numerous pat downs and a transport, I was eventually ordered to stand naked and be subjected to a strip search by a deputy sheriff.
All because I asked Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James P. Fisher to explain the authority behind his ruling, and to simply clarify that ruling in a rather complex divorce case. The judge had not been on the bench for very long, and perhaps his time earning his bachelor’s degree in communications at Shepherd University in West Virginia (a school I’ve only heard good things about) after graduating from Stonewall Jackson High School in Prince William County, after receiving his law degree at Capitol University in Ohio, and after having been a prosecutor for so long, he may not have been adequately prepared for the intricacies of the civil case before him.
Or maybe it was ego, misogyny, and pride that led to this judge feeling that he would rather dominate an assertive attorney advocating for her client instead of explaining his ruling to her.
After my story was made known in Virginia Lawyers Weekly, many of my fellow attorney colleagues began to tell me their fishy stories. They would whisper them. They expressed their fear of Fisher doing the same to them. I was also told stories of a judge in Richmond and of a substitute retired judge in Fairfax County acting inappropriately, to put it mildly.
Does Fisher care that a JIRC complaint was filed against him? Why should he? Those proceedings are secret. Does Fisher care that I appealed his finding me in contempt, and that the Court of Appeals found that since he did not sign any order with any finding or ruling, there was nothing they could do? Why should he? Judges get reversed on appeal on occasion and they still sit on the bench. Does Fisher care that there have been rallies against him and articles written against him? Why should he? News stories come and go and are forgotten once the next thing comes up.
It is unfortunate that attorneys will not loudly stand up to injustice. I would direct them to go to YouTube and listen to Dougie MacLean’s rendition of “Scots Wha Hae,” which was written by beloved Scottish poet Robert Burns. (First get the translation of the lyrics off Wikipedia.) This speech was delivered by Robert the Bruce to his men as they were about to face the tyrannical King Edward in battle. There are a few lines in that poem that address this matter: “Who will be a traitor knave? Who will fill a coward’s grave? Who’s so base as be a slave?”
There is a reason why in Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” there was a discussion amongst some pretenders to the throne where the comment was made, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
Because lawyers should not bend knee. Lawyers should rise up and speak up. Lawyers should pull back the curtain.
A judge who feels he has to repeatedly smash his gavel for emphasis as Fisher did as he “ordered me back” strikes me as nothing more than a baby with a rattle stomping his foot when he doesn’t like what mommy or daddy is saying. I wish my fellow lawyers could envision the impertinent judge sitting high above them in a big black robe as nothing more than an 8-year-old in a Batman cape. Maybe then they would have the backbone to speak up and write letters to the Virginia General Assembly and to file JIRC complaints regarding their experiences with injustice instead of just whispering those stories to me.
Should good judges care that we are watching? Of course not. Because good judges have nothing to fear.
I would love to see a Reddit thread regarding judges who smash their gavels. I believe it would be a very short thread. Who does that other than judges in sitcoms?
But if there were a Reddit thread or Facebook page where people posted their memes and their fishy stories of fishy business, I’d bet that thread would be long indeed. Members of the legal community need to speak out and tell their stories of judicial impropriety.
I call on those who have been contacting me with their stories of fishy business in Loudoun County and elsewhere in the commonwealth to post their fishy stories and send them to State Sen. Scott Surovell. He will take those stories to the General Assembly where they need to be heard, to discuss the propriety of the impeachment and removal of bad judges from the bench, and to make JIRC proceedings transparent and not subject to one gate keeper who may be friends with the subject of the JIRC Complaint.
Lawyers who are willing to rise up, act up, and speak up, show nothing but guts and grace, and have what it takes to do what it takes. Lawyers should not bend knee, should stand together, should stand with the members of their communities, and should stand against injustice.
Rachel L. Virk, Potomac Falls